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The 2021 Asia-Pacific PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 125 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across the region.
Consultancy of the Year winners are announced and honoured at the 2021 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards, which takes place virtually on 15 September. Analysis of all Finalists and Winners can be accessed via the navigation menu or below:
The merger of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe has not been without issues, but in Greater China the whole appears to exceed the sum of the parts, given the complementary nature of the agencies. Burson has brought corporate and public affairs heft, particularly in Beijing, allied to Cohn & Wolfe’s consumer and digital capabilities in Shanghai. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, the merged entity benefits from an industry-leading focus on technology, which has helped it land a number of major assignments that reflect the cross-border technology focus of Chinese companies operating in the Greater Bay Area.
There are approximately 500 staffers across offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Greater China remains the engine for BCW’s regional growth — accounting for more than 50% of regional revenue — and that was never more important than in 2020, when the sub-region grew revenue by 6% to ensure that BCW’s Asia-Pacific revenue only dipped by 1% in 2020. Mainland China, in particular, was up by 7% — thanks to growth from local China clients, along with impressive returns from tech sector accounts. Hong Kong, meanwhile, was up 4% with 100 people focused on Chinese tech companies with global operations — including the likes of Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo, Vivo, Alibaba, Skyworth, Ping An, ByteDance, H3C, Baidu and Huami — much of which also involves geopolitical counsel. There was significant new business from Qualcomm, Oppo, Lenovo, Vivo, Master Kong, while diversification into healthcare and digital technology is also bringing benefits — with Greater China up 8% for 1H 2021.
BCW Asia-Pacific president Matt Stafford also serves as Hong Kong market leaders, while Qu Hong oversees BCW China and its Beijing office, alongside a leadership team that includes Veeco Tang (Shenzhen), and Cyrus Yeung (Guangzhou). The firm overhauled its Asia-Pacific training curriculum and also benefits from its ‘Breaking Bias’ employee programme — all of which contributes to strong employee survey scores on metrics reflecting cultural inclusion, workplace pride and personal support.
BCW houses much of its regional leadership in Greater China, including deputy president Polka Yu and chief digital officer Joe Peng, which has ensured that the markets are a hub of innovation, particularly in terms of integrated marketing and digital technology. There is considerable investment in creative capabilites, technology platforms, data/analytics, animation, AR/VR, influencer management and martech solutions — which has paid off with impressive work for Zepp, Ford, Huawei and Lenovo.
— Arun Sudhaman
FleishmanHillard’s global mission statement — ‘be bold, stay true’ — was born in China, reflecting the relevance its operations in the subregion have for its overall brand. As one of the first international PR firms to launch in China, FleishmanHillard continues to motor along in some style, with Greater China president Rachel Catanach overseeing an offering that focuses on data-driven reputation and innovation across corporate reputation, brand marketing. public affairs, employee engagement, crisis and issues management.
Around half of FleishmanHillard’s 220-strong Greater China headcount is based in Shanghai, with the remainder spread across Beijing, Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
In a tough year, FleishmanHillard was still able to grow its mainland China revenues slightly, with its Shanghai office — which has doubled revenue and headcount over the past three years — again at the forefront of this performance. That came across all sectors, notably luxury (LVMH), lifestyle (P&G, Swatch), sports (Nike), technology (Alibaba, SAP, Samsung, Cisco, Global Data Service), manufacturing (GM), healthcare (J&J, Philips, Novartis, Roche), financial/professional services and public sector, powered by a broad range of capabilities from traditional media relations to issues/crisis, reputation management, public affairs and integrated marketing. The firm’s healthcare expansion owed much to its digital and creative services, and included new areas focusing on providers and medical writing. While Beijing leads corporate and public affairs, Fleishman’s Hong Kong office continues to impress in terms of financial/professional services and healthcare. Notably, mainland China is on track for healthy double-digit growth in 2021.
Catanach continued to expand her leadership team, with Shanghai GM Yisi Liu stepping up to MD, Norman Li promoted to China consumer head and Suki Zhao taking charge of BlueCurrent China. In addition, Lynn Liang returned to oversee healthcare. The firm’s EDGE learning and development program continues to deliver results across leadership/personal effectiveness, commercial acumen and value proposition, while Greater China offices were also involved in FleishmanHillard’s efforts to drive stronger DE&I policy and actions.
China serves as something of a thought leadership hub for Fleishman, playing a key role in its global Authenticity Gap research and also driving separate initiatives into Covid-19 recovery, the future of asset management and China’s two sessions. The firm’s campaign work reflects its breadth and depth, including D&I-focused employer branding support for HSBC; and celebrating the strength of modern women for Corning Gorilla Glass.
— Arun Sudhaman
With fee income estimated at more than $80m, Ogilvy’s Greater China operations have always benefited from its formidable public relations offering, so the global decision to bring back Ogilvy PR as a distinct practice makes particular sense in these markets. Indeed PR has often led group operations in the three markets, where it counts almost 600 staffers across corporate, consumer, public affairs, crisis management, digital/social, healthcare and technology.
Around half of Ogilvy’s regional headcount are spread across its Greater China network, which includes offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Taipei.
Like many networks, Ogilvy’s Greater China operations struggled for growth in 2020, but have bounced back to report high single-digit expansion during the first half of 2021. There was new business from Mercedes Benz, ONO Pharma, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Schroders, Subway, Takeda, Yahoo, BMW, TaiwanPay, Mox Bank, China Resources (Holdings) Co Ltd, Sino Group, Hong Kong Construction Association, Hong Kong Jockey Club and The Chinese University of Hong Kong — which join an existing roster that features Huawei, Vivo, H3C, Epson, Caterpillar, GE, Tencent, Financial Information Service Co., Samsung, Nestle, Diageo, Reckitt Benckiser, Nike, Yum, AMEX, Ocean Park Hong Kong. Notable new remits include China outbound work for Skyworth and Hisense, disruptor brands like Grab and Uber Eats in Taiwan and Mox Bank in Hong Kong, and Huawei’s global social business mandate out of Hong Kong.
With longtime leader Scott Kronick moving into an advisory role, China president Joe Yu now reports to new Asia president Emily Poon, and oversees a sub-regional leadership team that includes Beijing MD Louis Luo, managing partner Jo Zhou, SVP Simon Webb and Guangzhou SVP John Zhong. Tiffany Hu arrived this year as Shanghai managing partner, while Clara Shek continues her long-term leadership of the Hong Kong office. Ogilvy has also stepped up ethics and D&I training, while launching an employee assistance program to help families through the pandemic.
Ogilvy PR’s thought leadership offering in China continues to give it a competitive edge over many rivals, encompassing regular publications that cover influence, public affairs, and working life. The firm’s leaders are also highly visible in this regard, participating in numerous events and other initiatives that span such areas as education, professional development, business insight and nation branding. Unsurprisingly, Ogilvy’s campaign work continues to reflect a positioning that is particularly strong when it comes to digital innovation and technological disruption, including successful, highly creative, efforts for Taiwan Pay, Huawei, KFC China, Pfizer and Viatris.
— Arun Sudhaman
Ruder Finn’s China operations continue to account for around 85% of its US$39m in regional revenue in 2020. That strength is reflected in particularly strong luxury, beauty, travel/retail, automotive and integrated marketing capabilities in Shanghai, where regional CEO Elan Shou is based, supported by heavyweight financial services, corporate, technology, research and digital/social expertise in Hong Kong. All of which has added up to double-digit annual expansion for much of the past decade, even if that came to a screeching halt during the pandemic.
The firm boasts more than 400 people across offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Shenzhen, the last of which opened in 2020.
China revenues were effectively flat in 2020 although a double-digit rebound is underway this year. While travel and retail bore the brunt of the pandemic downturn, most of Ruder Finn’s clients stayed with the firm, and have started spending again, adding to existing growth from the firm’s luxury, beauty/skincare, consumer electronics and financial services practices. There was new business from BASF, Dah Sing Bank (HK), DoubleVerify, Edrington and Vivo, the last of which adds to a consumer electronics portfolio that is dominated by Chinese brands going global, including Oppo, Xiaomi and Tencent. Other key existing clients in Greater China include EquitiesFirst, Estee Lauder, Ikea, Marriott International, Moet Hennessy Diageo, Porsche, Singapore Tourism Board, TikTok and Visa, along with important local assignments for Mercedes-Benz, MHDC, McDonald’s China, LG, Macy’s, FedEx and HSBC.
In addition to Shou, key leaders included luxury head Gao Ming, RFI Asia MD David Ko and global head of risk Charles Lankester, while Mark Callan arrived to lead the growing integrated marketing practice in China. Unsurprisingly, Ruder Finn benefits from its independence; there were no layoffs nor pay cuts due to Covid-19, while the firm elevated virtual support for employees, including weekly anti-stress sessions and vaccination drives. Ruder Finn was the first to put an Asian woman in charge of its regional operations, and is a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ causes and broader diversity initiatives, both internal and external.
Ruder Finn’s willingness to invest in digital tools and research continues to reap dividends, most notably through its annual China Luxury Forecast, now in its ninth edition and specific digital tools focusing on crisis simulation and influencer analysis. All of which underpins a vastly improved awards performance from the agency, with standout campaigns including a virtual open house for the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, 3M’s State of Science Index, and integrated transformation work for EquitiesFirst, Edrington and Manulife.
— Arun Sudhaman
Greater China remains a critical driver of Weber Shandwick’s regional presence, accounting for around half of its Asia-Pacific revenues. Over a third comes from mainland China, where more than 400 people are overseen by chairman David Liu and GM Corbin Hsieh, with the China CEO position vacant following Lydia Lee’s shift into a regional role. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, longtime leader Albert Shu oversees the market’s largest international PR firms, and expanded his remit earlier this year to include Singapore.
Weber Shandwick operates offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Taipei and Hong Kong.
China revenues were impacted by the pandemic, turning around in the second half of the year thanks to an aggressive new business drive that won 84% of more than 400 pitches. The firm’s new e-sports offering was well received, resulting in the Global League of Legends and Nike assignments, while Weber Shandwick also benefited from expanded business from domestic clients such as Alibaba, BYD, Tencent, Anta and Oppo — part of an existing roster that also includes Aldi, Amorepacific, GM, IBM, Mastercard and Daimler. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, organic growth doubled — with the firm’s healthcare practice (up 30%) again proving critical to overall performance, alongside 17% growth in digital revenues.
Weber Shandwick moved quickly to shut down operations in China, and has brought a similar sense of alacrity to its employee support efforts, sourcing PPE and only cutting senior management salaries for a short period of time before reinstating them. There was a sustained focus on virtual community and learning and development, with the firm’s ‘Juice’ global initiative instrumental in helping Weber Shandwick reimagine the future of work. A new DE&I program has also launched in Asia-Pacific, which includes committees in each market and mandatory training for senior leadership.
Weber Shandwick’s breadth across the sub-region — encompassing digital innovation, healthcare, consumer marketing, corporate, technology and esports — has served the firm well during difficult economic conditions. There is an increased focus on such areas as data-driven narratives, predictive trend spotting, geopolitical risk/reputation and virtual engagement — much of which is underpinned by an internal product capability that remains one of the sharpest on the market. That paid off in disruptive campaign work for Nike’s eSports efforts, for Acuvue Define, for Ikea’s inclusion work, and in a pioneering cross-market healthcare taskforce that combined Hong Kong and Singapore for such clients as Abbott, MSD, Pfizer, Roche and J&J.
— Arun Sudhaman
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